- Explaining or advising without being asked to do so often serves our own ego rather than the moment of connection.
- A desire to be right can make conversations about winning an argument.
- Story-topping can shift a conversation's focus from connection to competition.
In a previous post, I described how certain ways of listening and responding help us cultivate meaningful moments of connection in our relationships. Responsive, high-quality listening tends to occur when we offer undivided attention to others, communicate that we understand what they are telling us, value their perspective, and care for them.
There are also, of course, conversation behaviors that can easily disrupt meaningful connection, leaving our conversation partner feeling invalidated—here are six common ones:
Interrupting is straightforward—we all know what it feels like to be cut off mid-sentence, and the accompanying sense that our conversation partner doesn’t care what we have to say.
Of course, sometimes we just can’t help ourselves and dive in, and interrupting can be a means to understand better—to let a conversation partner know that we didn’t hear them or want clarification. Real-life conversation is messy, so there is room for repair (“oops, sorry I interrupted, keep going!”) and a chance to save our comment until we have the floor.
We may catch ourselves responding that our day was worse, our experience is more intense, and our view more beautiful. This may shift the intention of our conversations to competition rather than connection.
Sharing our stories is a key part of relating, yet it helps to notice if our motivation is to impress others, to prove, or to brag. If that's the case we may actually be seeking admiration, not connection. It goes a long way to first acknowledge how others felt about their experience before sharing our own.
Often from a desire to be supportive, we push others to look on the bright side when they share their challenges. While optimism and a positive attitude can do wonders, we still need to experience the difficult feelings of our struggles to pass through them, and telling others about our hardships is one way to do that.
Encouraging others to see the bright side doesn’t acknowledge the difficult reality that they are experiencing—and so it can feel invalidating. On the other hand, the connection that comes from paying mind to others’ difficult feelings can help them to cope with stress and draw you closer.
4. Being Right
Notice when you become determined that your conversation partner must agree with you. Rather than listening to their experience, you start listening as if you are in a debate, searching for holes in their argument, looking for ways to advance your opinion. A desire to be right makes the conversation about winning an argument rather than making space for both of you to be seen and heard.
Meaningful connections tend to occur when people find common ground or an empathetic understanding of where they don’t align. In a complex world where each one of us has a unique point of view, on most topics of conversation we can respect each other's reality even if we don’t agree.
5. Being All-Knowing
When we explain information to people without being asked for our expertise, it may communicate that we see them as ignorant. Though we may have kind intentions, holding forth on a topic often serves our own ego rather than the moment of connection. If we are excited to share a piece of knowledge, we can always check in with others about their fluency on a topic (and their interest in hearing about it) first.
Sometimes people open up to us because they genuinely want our suggestions, yet unsolicited advice-giving is often an attempt to be right or all-knowing. If our conversation partner is seeking empathy and connection rather than information, advice can feel invalidating of their emotional experience.
If we ask others if they would like to hear our thoughts on how they might handle their circumstances, then they have the choice to give us the open floor, yet we must be willing to hear them say no, and allow them to make their own decisions.
No Need to Be Perfect
It’s important to note that none of the above habits are always ineffective, and we are not bad friends or partners if we catch ourselves interrupting or jumping in with unsolicited advice. Strong relationships of all kinds are built through moving through moments where we become misaligned and finding our way back again.
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